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Activists Sue to Overturn Florida's Gay Marriage Ban


Equality Florida and six same-sex couples filed suit against the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court today, challenging the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.

It's the latest in a series of cases across the country that contend such prohibitions are unconstitutional and effectively relegate gay partners to second-class status.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the couples by Equality Florida Institute Inc., a civil rights organization that works for fairness for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The lawsuit claims Florida's gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The couples, many of whom have children and have been together for years, said they see no reason to be forced to move to a state that permits same-sex marriage when they have built lives in Florida. Vanessa Alenier, who is raising a 5-year-old son with partner Melanie Alenier, said they decided to share the same last name to come as close to marriage as possible - but the same-sex ban blocks that final step.

"We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family," said Vanessa Alenier. "Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides."

The amendment reads, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

The amendment was passed by 62.5 percent of the voters and added to the State Constitution in 2008.

At least two conservative groups vowed to fight the challenge to the law.

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel said, “Liberty Counsel will help to defend the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. This amendment affirms the natural created order of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the foundation of society and provides the best environment in which to raise children. It is a fact—children do best when raised by a mother and a father.”

Staver continued, “Same-sex marriage laws are having catastrophic consequences for religious freedom and our civil society. Redefining marriage has destructive effects on children, family and freedom."

John Stemberger, President and General Counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, issued the following statement in response to Equality Florida's announcement:

"Sixty two percent of Floridians have decisively spoken on this issue. Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace, so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives."

Gay marriage bans have also been struck down by courts in New Jersey and New Mexico, and new laws have been passed elsewhere. In the seven months since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the number of states allowing gay marriage has risen from 12 to 17. Utah and Oklahoma remain pending in the courts.

Gays in Florida one a key legal victory in 2010, when the state decided not to appeal a decision striking down the state's decades-old ban on adoptions by gay people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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